Why Your Shoes May Be Harming Your Feet: The Case for Barefoot Shoes

In this video, the speaker discusses the negative effects of traditional footwear on foot health. They explain how shoes with narrow toe boxes and high heels deform the feet, leading to issues such as bunions, weak muscles, and balance problems. The speaker promotes the use of minimal or barefoot shoes with wide toe boxes, as they allow the feet to move more naturally and improve overall body function. They also suggest walking more often and incorporating exercises to strengthen foot and toe muscles. The video provides recommendations for specific brands that offer minimalist footwear options.

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Key Insights:

  • Wearing shoes that restrict natural foot movement can lead to weak toes, immobility, and affect the entire body’s kinetic chain.
  • Children who are allowed to run around barefoot naturally develop wider toe splay, which is beneficial for balance, stability, and injury prevention.
  • Most western children wear shoes that are too small, which can actively crowd the toes together and lead to deformities like bunions.
  • Wearing ill-fitting shoes with pointy toes, high heels, or stiff soles can cause foot problems like bunions, weakened arches, and joint pain.
  • Choosing shoes with wide toe boxes that allow for natural foot movement and exercise can improve foot health and overall body function.
  • Minimalist or barefoot shoes, with thin flexible soles, wide toe boxes, and zero heel-to-toe drop, can promote a more natural walking and running experience.
  • Supporting small businesses and handmade shoe brands can encourage artisan shoemaking and move away from mass-produced, assembly-line footwear.
  • Walking barefoot or wearing minimal shoes can strengthen foot and leg muscles, protect bones and joints, and improve overall balance and mobility.
  • Considerations for specific activities that require more protection, such as motorized vehicles or work environments, may necessitate different types of shoes.


When I was 16, I broke my toe skateboarding. Not from falling, I just pushed the ground over and over again until I got a stress fracture. And if that wasn’t weird enough, 17 years later, it still hadn’t healed. I went to the best foot doctors in New York City, and none of them noticed anything wrong with my foot. But their idea of a normal foot is one that’s been inside a normal shoe for most of its life. And shoes are rounded at the front and kind of pointy, sometimes even pointier than the heel.

Here’s the thing: the toes are an extension of the bones in the foot, and we’re all born with toes that are pretty much straight in line with the metatarsals. So the foot is kind of shaped like a triangle, with the toes being the widest part. In tropical countries, lots of people have never worn shoes, maybe just flip-flops or sandals, and they all have strong toes that are still in this natural alignment and are splayed out wider than the rest of their foot.

People who quit shoes in adulthood for mobility or spiritual reasons usually regain this natural foot shape. But a shoe that fits that description looks ridiculous, like it’s made for a clown. For some reason, instead of making our shoes shaped like feet, we’re making our feet shapes like shoes.

Children famously hate shoes, and kids who are allowed to run around barefoot naturally develop a wide splay that’s good for balance, stability, and injury prevention. A lot of you don’t even realize that you can move your toes side to side because in modern societies, kids wear shoes for the whole day, and if the shoes prevent this natural movement, the muscles atrophy, and we start to lose the ability to control these muscles.

This weakness and immobility affect everything else up the kinetic chain, not just our feet. We’re talking about the foundation that our entire body stands on. But it gets so much worse than just preventing movement because most Western children wear shoes that are too small. And as you can see, even a shoe that’s long enough can actively crowd the toes together. The sweaty foot prisons that we put on our children’s feet and continue to wear as adults change the toes‘ resting position over time. It might take weeks, months, years, or decades depending on your particular shoes and foot structure. But if you’re doing all your exercise with your toes abducted in your shoes, the foot muscles develop in that deformed position.

Podiatrists are trying to fix our foot problems with orthotics and sneaker technology that can make the situation even worse. With women’s high heels, it’s obvious you can clearly see the damage being done. But all the things that are bad about the high heel are featured in almost all of the shoes and sneakers that are out there, just to a lesser degree. The toes are too narrow, the heel is too high, and the sole is too stiff.

Using our feet in an unnatural position puts our whole body in unnatural positions because it’s all connected. Problems in our ankles, knees, hips, and back can sometimes be cured by fixing the problems in our feet. And the problem of crowded toes can be reversed in adulthood by wearing shoes with a wide toe box to promote natural foot function.

You might say, „Well, I have wide feet, so I always buy wide shoes.“ But just look at the tool they use to measure your foot. It measures the width in the middle instead of at the toes. So a wide or extra wide shoe is not necessarily a wide toe box shoe.

I have narrow feet, and I wear the widest toe box shoes available in stores for most activities, especially for walking. I hope this video makes you rethink your footwear and make choices that allow your foot to move more naturally because you’ll improve the way that you walk and the way that your whole body functions and feels.

Some people I know will continue to prioritize fashion over their health, and some of you will deny that your athletic shoes have soles that are too stiff, with a heel that’s too high. But I really hope I can convince you that your shoes are too pointy because we all know that foot binding is bad. We just don’t realize we’ve been microdosing it. Well, some of us do. In fact, doctors have been talking about it for kind of a while.

In 1905, Dr. Hoffman said, „Fashion has a greater influence than reason. The manufacturer, through ignorance and self-interest, fits the desires of his patrons rather than their feet and places upon the market footwear more or less crowds the front of the foot.“

I’m sure you can think of examples of people sacrificing their health for fashion. Women used to wear corsets that damaged their internal organs. At one point, being pale became very fashionable to show off that you’re rich enough to not have to work outside.

At some point, fashionable people got together and decided that having strong toes makes you look poor. Like these women here, clearly don’t have to walk five miles a day to get drinking water for their family.

Now, let me say that this problem used to be much worse. And obviously, foot binding being the worst case. But even for men in America in the 1800s who couldn’t afford custom shoes, they’d often buy straights instead of left and right-specific shoes and then switched them when they started to wear out on one side. So their feet would start to look symmetrical. And it wasn’t even considered weird at the time because even the custom shoes looked like this.

Here’s an 1878 cartoon of a woman so bummed that she can’t fit her size six feet into a size four shoe. And still today, it’s estimated that 88% of women wear shoes that are narrower than their foot. A recent study of Austrian preschoolers found that over 80% of the kids were wearing shoes too small. And the smaller the shoe relative to the foot, the more likely the child was to have hallux valgus. Hallux is the big toe, and valgus means that it’s angled away from the center of the body, so in towards the other toes. If this keeps going past 15 degrees, it can lead to a painfully debilitating condition later in life that we know as bunions. In barefoot populations, this condition does not exist. Adults who don’t wear shoes have a big toe that is close to straight in line with the metatarsal bone. Of course, there’s variation person to person, but almost everyone has a hallux angle that’s within 15 degrees of being straight. Some people have big toes angled in, some angled out, with the average being close to zero degrees. And the numbers are almost exactly the same for men and women.

Just to clarify, we’re talking about the angle of this joint here. And cultures that do wear shoes, you’ll basically never see a big toe angled out from the metatarsal. What you will see is almost a third of elderly people with moderate or severe bunions, which make walking painful, often leading to surgery. Even a moderate bunion is defined as 20 to 40 degrees, which is unheard of among unshod people. The longer people wear ill-fitting shoes, the worse their bunions get, especially for women who, if you remember from the previous chapter, love pretending that they have dainty little pointy feet.

If bunions are caught early enough, they can be reversed in the same way they were formed, just by propping the toe out lightly in the other direction and going about daily activities to strengthen and retrain the muscles for months and years on end. Japanese forest workers used to wear a traditional shoe called the tabi, which reversed hallux valgus in this exact fashion. And some of them went past straight into hallux varus.

Remember, we don’t label hallux valgus as a deformity until it gets past 15 degrees. But foot doctors label hallux varus as a deformity if it’s even one or two degrees because they define a normal foot as one that’s been in a normal shoe for its whole life. So if the people in this photo went to a Western podiatrist, the doctor would label their toes as deformed with a possible treatment of splinting and corrective footwear because at some point, podiatrists gave up on the idea that shoes should be shaped like feet and not the other way around.

I feel like I’m living in a society where almost everyone is like, „Watermelons are square,“ of course, watermelons are square. Why else would we put the watermelon seed in a plastic cube if watermelons weren’t square? Despite the science confirming the obvious, a lot of people still think that bunions are just hereditary. Bunions do run in families, and you do largely inherit your bone structure. But more importantly, if your parents wore shoes, then you probably do too. And twin studies have proven that footwear is a better explanation than genes.

They even dug up medieval people’s bones and found that bunions started in Europe at the time when pointy-toed shoes came into fashion. Saying that bunions are genetic and ignoring footwear as the cause is kind of like if your doctor told you that lung cancer is genetic and neglected to mention that cigarettes are likely to cause it.

The studies mostly focus on the big toe, but most modern footwear also crams the pinky toe in and makes it kind of useless. Some women have even asked their doctor to surgically remove their pinky toe so they can fit into fancier shoes. When the toes become angled in, it’s harder to balance, partially because you’re standing on a narrower platform. When you balance on one foot, you rock back and forth between the inside and outside edges of the foot. If you straighten out your big toe and lean on the inside edge of your foot, you’ll feel a huge strain on the inside of your arch if you haven’t ever built up this muscle. With the big toe in alignment, but when the big toe becomes angled in, the strain is shifted from the muscle to the bone. If you can spread your big toe before you balance on one foot, you’ll relieve an immense amount of pressure from your metatarsal joint or your toe knuckle, and when you start to lose balance, you’ll enlist muscle to push you back the other way instead of your bone sending a signal to your brain that this is the limit and you need to shuffle or put your other foot down.

Crowded toes also cause the ligaments to become overstretched. As the big toe leverages the metatarsal joint away from the foot, the muscles attached to your toes also get smaller and weaker. And when the joint becomes dysfunctional in these ways, your natural stride is altered, and this will likely cause other problems up the kinetic chain, like weak ankles, collapsed arches, knee pain, stiff hips, and back pain, especially when combined with some of the other technology in modern footwear.

Modern running shoes have absurdly stiff and rounded soles, like they’re trying to turn your feet into wheels. When you walk barefoot, the bottom of your foot gets a nice stretch with each step. If you have a sole that barely bends, you either lift your heel off of the sole, or you make the laces really tight so that your foot stays rigid, and you lose mobility over time. The whole point of going for a walk or a run is to move your body, so why would you use a shoe that restricts movement below the ankle?

It shouldn’t be a surprise that wearing a soft cast makes you stiff and weak. If you’re thinking this is the part of the video where I tell you to walk around barefoot all the time, no. In general, the natural way is tried and true, and it’s often the healthiest way to do things. But natural just means the way our ancestors did it. Shoes, just like any technology in solving a problem, can also create new problems. Getting rid of shoes entirely doesn’t really seem like the move. Going barefoot feels great on grass or sand, but it’s not a good solution in a city where you can cut your foot on the ground and die of hookworm or whatever.

We have lots of charities that give shoes to kids in developing nations. This is a photo of a child getting his first pair of shoes, which will protect his feet from cuts and parasitic infections but will restrict movement. Kids, in general, have body language that’s easy to read. And they often move their toes when they’re happy. By the time we’re adults, we’re so used to having our feet in restrictive shoes that we kind of forget they’re even part of our body until they hurt.

In recent years, it’s become much easier to find shoes that are shaped like feet and allow natural movement. These are minimalist, AKA barefoot shoes. They’re usually worn with socks. They’re just called barefoot shoes because when you wear them on hard surfaces, they mimic the feeling of walking or running barefoot on grass or dirt. They have thin, flexible soles and wide toe boxes without any height differences in the sole, such as toe spring, arch support, or heel-to-toe drop.

I wear minimal shoes for 90% of my activities, and now that I’ve regained some mobility in my toes, I noticed that even the Nikes and Adidas that I thought were roomy were totally constricting my pinky toe. Big shoe companies love when your toes are mushed together because they get way sweatier that way, and then you have to replace your shoes more often.

I don’t wear minimal shoes for skateboarding, one-wheeling, or any extreme sports where I might smash my foot really, really hard. Barefoot shoes are not appropriate when you actually do need a lot of protection, especially when riding a motorized vehicle where you’re barely even moving your feet to begin with. If you have to stand for work all day, you probably want soles that are flat but not thin, you probably want some cushion between your feet and the hard floor.

Most sports require a specific shoe to remain competitive, but at highly competitive levels, you might be prioritizing performance over your foot health. So let’s say you’re with me on the wide toe box but you want a shoe that has a more traditional sole. I don’t actually wear these, but I’ve got some links in the description if you’re interested.

The brand Xero has been paving the way for athletic shoes. Lems offers both barefoot style and padded soles. And there are even some Amazon brands for under $50, a wide toe box that gives your toes space to breathe and move in itself is so good for you. But in order to improve and strengthen your feet and everything else up the chain, you do need to exercise. But that can be as simple as just walking around because the thin soles of a barefoot shoe encourage you to walk around by using your muscles, as crazy as that sounds, instead of just hammering your heel bones into the concrete.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about barefoot shoes is that you’ll need to use your calf muscles more. If you walk around using the muscles in your feet and legs as suspension, you’ll strengthen those muscles and protect your bones and joints. Walking in barefoot shoes is allegedly as effective as doing PT exercises for the foot.

So if you’ve been skipping foot day for your whole life, you probably don’t want to start out doing it seven days a week. If you quit padded shoes cold turkey, you might shock your body, especially if you’re using barefoot shoes for running. If you are, please run on something like grass at first. Do not start off running in barefoot shoes on concrete.

Having said that, let me talk about what shoes I wear for most activities. First off, my current favorite pair of shoes: the Xero Prio. Super lightweight, breathable, and comfortable. Right now, it feels like I’m wearing shoes, that sense of comfort that you get when you take your shoes off. Yeah, that’s what it feels like that I’m wearing shoes. The strap actually tightens around the back of the shoe, making them very adjustable. They’re also designed to be worn with or without insoles, and when you remove the insole, you can actually see a finished product underneath. I’ll have to test these out long-term and give an update, but the soles have a 5,000-mile guarantee, so I don’t expect any issues with durability. I really, really like supporting small businesses instead of big corporations, and Xero was started by a husband and wife team who discovered minimal footwear as a cure for injuries and started making sandals out of their garage. Huge thanks to Steven from Xero for sending me these. You can tell he’s really passionate about this stuff and wants to spread the word.

If you’re looking for a stylish barefoot shoe, Vivo Barefoot’s got a whole line of high-quality shoes: high tops, low tops, some with tread for trail running, some that you could wear to a fancy dinner. The only Vivos I’ve worn are the Ultras, but I’ve worn them all summer for the past eight years. Super breathable, obviously, and they look like thin Crocs, but they are actually designed for running. Vivos run a bit pricey, but I do have a link in the description, and you get a high-quality design and construction that’s backed by a 100-day trial period with a money-back guarantee.

Whitton is an Amazon brand that has become extremely popular in the past few months. This past winter, I wore these almost every day. Whitton has a lot of different styles that look like normal casual sneakers, and the best part is that they’re all $40, with Amazon brands, the design and construction is a little hasty. You might find some excess thread or glue. There’s not a real heel counter on this model, but overall, a great way to get into minimal shoes at a low cost.

Well, if you thought that was the budget option, what if I told you that I got these three pairs of shoes on Amazon for $20 to $27 per pair, and they have all the benefits of a minimalist athletic shoe? They just have never been marketed as such because they’re called water shoes. There’s zero drop with thin, flexible soles that allow you to feel the terrain and use your foot muscles naturally. Nice wide toe boxes, and they’re also very breathable with or without socks. Most of these do have literal drain holes, so if you’re worried about something sharp sticking through, make sure to get the soles that don’t have holes. These are identical to the ones used in Whitton’s trail running line. Whitton has just rebranded them for trail running.

But wait, what if I told you that for zero dollars cost, you could… like this video and subscribe for more content and hit that bell for notifications. Actually, I really would appreciate that because it helps spread the message and helps.

There are some links to minimal shoes that I don’t personally wear, baby shoes, shoes for extra-wide feet. Soft Stars are the widest toe box that I’m aware of being sold in the US, and they’re actually handmade in Oregon. Breaking news, I’m being told the Realfoot from Czechia ships to the US and has the widest toe box in the world, regardless of the country of origin. It would be really cool if we supported shoemaking as an artisan process because assembly line work is not really a good way to be a human being.

So check the description below for my list of handmade shoes. Final thoughts, I know that barefoot shoes are not for all activities, but walking more often is one of the best and easiest things you can do to improve your health. And minimalist footwear will encourage you to rethink and improve the way you walk, which will improve the way your whole body functions and feels.

Thanks for watching. Let me know what you want to see in the sequel. I want to talk more about the hips and core and the body mechanics of walking, corrective toe spacers, toe socks, grounding yourself, and exercises you can do to improve your toe mobility. If you have any experience at all with barefoot shoes, let me know your experience. If you’ve bought any of the shoes I recommend, give an update after a few months. If you’ve got shoe brands you recommend, let the people know in the comments section.